Seed World

The Spanish Presidency of the EU is Committed to Gene Editing as a Tool for Sustainable Development

On July 1, 2023, Spain assumed the presidency of the Council of the European Union, a responsibility that it will exercise until Dec. 31 of this year. During this period, Spain will have the opportunity to promote one of the priorities of the Spanish Presidency: advance in everything related to the incorporation of the most advanced technologies and new genomic techniques, especially in the current context of climate change.

To this end, since the presentation of the regulation proposal by the European Commission on July 5, the Ministry team has been working intensively, both at a technical and diplomatic level, to carry out a proposal that allows the development of these tools in plant improvement.

At the Council of Agriculture Ministers on 25 July, there was a first exchange of views on the Commission’s legislative proposal for a regulation on plants obtained by certain new genomic techniques, as part of its “Package on Food, Nutrition and Biodiversity”. The ministers stated that they welcomed this initiative, saying they considered it necessary to guarantee a sustainable and resilient agri-food system. In parallel, during the month of July a working group was launched at a technical level to debate the articles of the proposed regulation.

In the press conference after the Council, Spain’s acting Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Luis Planas, stated: “We must be very didactic.” New genomic techniques allow breeders to achieve plant varieties in a more precise and safe way and in shorter periods of time than using conventional breeding methods. He stressed that these techniques open numerous possibilities for producing food in a more sustainable way, by being able to have crops that require less water, fertilizers or phytosanitary inputs.

Director at the Spanish Seed Association ANOVE, Elena Sáenz García-Baquero.

He organized and chaired an informal meeting of European agriculture ministers in Córdoba on September 4 and 5 to address the scientific, ethical, legal and social aspects of gene editing, as well as its coexistence with organic farming and future patents.

At the meeting and based on the context provided by the scientific world, the potential of utilizing NGT to obtain new plant varieties — both to tackle the challenge of the sustainability of food production and particularly to address the challenge of climate change and the need to reduce the use of phytosanitary products and fertilizers — was addressed.

At the press conference after the meeting, the Minister highlighted that “the Spanish Presidency is committed to working constructively together with all the delegations on the proposal presented by the European Commission on July 5, and to obtaining a good result for our sector as a whole and for our citizens.”

This isn’t the first time he has promoted NGT. Before beginning the period of the Spanish Presidency, Minister Planas already made statements favorable to the use of genetic editing.

In May, at the international Agriculture Innovation Mission (AIM) for Climate conference held in Washington, he announced the application of new genetic editing techniques would be one of Spain’s priorities during his current presidency.

Likewise, at the Informal Council in Sweden on June 13, he made statements where he expressly stated that new genetic improvement technologies are strategic allies that can improve productivity and profitability in agriculture.

There is no doubt that this issue is at the top of the political agenda of the Spanish Presidency and that work is being done to meet the challenge. It will not be a simple negotiation, but they hope to be able to reach an agreement or a common declaration in the last Council under its presidency on Dec. 11 and 12.

The electoral calendars in the EU will not allow the legislative process to be completed, although it is expected to have a first debate in the European Parliament in February 2024, before its dissolution.

This support from our authorities is the result of the consensus that exists on the benefits that these genetic editing techniques can provide. In the case of farmers, the agricultural unions and the main producer organizations gathered in ALAS (Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture), included this point in the Manifesto for Agroscience:

“5. Establish, as also requested by the scientific community, by the European authorities a regulatory framework based on scientific, proportionate and reasonable criteria that allows farmers to use the varieties best adapted to phytosanitary challenges, compete on equal terms and put in value the recent advances in genetic editing techniques, such as those worthy of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020, which give rise to new and precise tools to improve cultivated plants, recover traditional varieties and generate new ones that enable food production systems abundant and healthy, more sustainable and resilient.”

Editor’s Note: Elena Sáenz García-Baquero is Director at the Spanish Seed Association ANOVE.